Coffee News Club: Week of February 12th

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I’ll have a hot cup of spite and an extra dry scone: a Curb Your Enthusiasm pop-up opens in Los Angeles. Plus, surging robusta prices lead to farmers renegotiating contracts, and unionized workers barred from competing in Starbucks’ Barista Championship.

‘Vietnam Coffee Farmers Seek to Renegotiate Deals After Price Surge’ – via Nasdaq

Robusta prices are at their highest in nearly three decades. Many producers agreed to lower rates before prices rose but are now thinking twice about the arrangement. Farmers in Vietnam—the world’s largest supplier of robusta coffee—want to renegotiate contracts and secure more favorable prices, using shrinking supply as leverage.

Volatile weather led to lower-than-expected harvests in Vietnam over the last two yearspushing global robusta prices higher. Farmers have less coffee to sell, giving them more reason to look for better prices. “I would not say we broke the contract,” one farmer told Reuters. “When prices went up, we renegotiated the prices with buyers. For now, we only release beans if buyers can match our quoted prices.”

Because Vietnam grows more than a third of the world’s robusta, any dip in supply can have global repercussions. Some traders are now looking to coffee stockpiles monitored by the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), although these supplies are also dwindling.

And it’s unlikely buyers can simply turn to other countries to supplement stock. The USDA predicts that Brazil, the world’s second-largest producer of robusta, will produce less coffee than expected, again due to adverse weather. “There’s a likelihood this robusta story will persist until the new (robusta) crop (from Brazil is harvested),” one trader said. “Even then I’m not convinced it’s over.”

The Vietnam Coffee Cocoa Association (Vicofa) expects coffee prices to continue increasing over the coming year. “During the past three decades,” said Vicofa deputy president Do Ha Nam, “never have we thought that Vietnam could be in a shortage of coffee.”

Read the full story here.

‘Starbucks is Trialing Late-night Coffee Deliveries for People Who Get Midnight Caffeine Cravings’ – via Business Insider

Picture the scene: it’s 2 am. You can’t sleep. Counting sheep doesn’t work, and neither does the white noise machine. After tossing and turning some more, you give up. You pick up your phone, tap a few times, and boom—in 30 minutes, you have a grande nonfat cappuccino delivered directly to your door. Who needs sleep when you’ve got 24-hour coffee delivery?

Keen to attract the late-night-coffee-drinking demographic, Starbucks is trialing an after-hours delivery service in partnership with the on-demand delivery company Gopuff. As part of the pilot, Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan told investors, “Starbucks-trained baristas prepare handcrafted Starbucks drinks and food inside Gopuff micro fulfillment centers, delivering to the customer’s door in about 30 minutes.” The program, launched in October 2023, is limited to select neighbors in the Philadelphia metro area. 

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “about three dozen” Gopuff workers learned to make Starbucks drinks at two of the delivery company’s micro-fulfillment centers. Philly-headquartered Gopuff grew massively during 2020 and 2021, expanding to more than 650 US cities and opening in the UK as pandemic-era restrictions led to massive demand for home delivery. But amid fears of an “economic turndown” in 2022, the company laid off 1,500 workers and shuttered 76 distribution centers.

Delivery, which makes up 2% of sales, is an increasing focus for Starbucks—the company is exploring delivery-only locations and has partnered with DoorDash across the US to “provide our customers with another convenient way to enjoy Starbucks wherever they are.” Now, if they’re in Philadelphia, customers can enjoy coffee wherever and whenever.

Read the full story here.

‘2 LA Coffee Shops are Honoring the Final Season of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm” – via NPR

To celebrate the final season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, HBO teamed up with Los Angeles-based Menotti’s Coffee to open temporary pop-up versions of Latte Larry’s, Larry David’s short-lived “spite store” from the show’s tenth season. In the show, after a feud with local cafe proprietor Mocha Joe, Larry opens up an identical coffee shop next door with the express intention of undermining and outcompeting his rival.

Visitors to the repurposed Menotti’s locations in Culver City and Venice Beach over the weekend of February 2-4 sampled a free Hot Cup of Spite (black coffee) and an Extra Dry Scone, references to the show, and were also able to pick up a bag of Latte Larry’s beans along with various merch items. 

It’s not the first time the show’s creators have attempted to open a pop-up spite store, although the first try in March 2020 never came to fruition for obvious reasons. For one thing, they couldn’t source any Purell, the hand sanitizer that decorates every (non-wobbly!) table at Latte Larry’s.

Despite the rain, customers lined up for hours to visit this new iteration of Latte Larry’s. The reviews? “Pretty, pretty good.” 

Read the full story here.

More News

PNG partners with Enveritas and JDE Peet’s to Preserve Access to EU Coffee Markets’ – via Global Coffee Report

‘India’s Brewing Coffee Battle Pits Starbucks Against Pret for Share of Growing Market’ – via Financial Times

The 15th Annual Sprudgie Awards Winners And Honorees’ – via Sprudge

‘China’s Cotti Coffee Launches in Australia with Sydney Outlet‘ – via World Coffee Portal

Seth Rogen’s Lifestyle Brand Partners with Frozen Coffee Maker’ – via Food Dive

NASA Engineered a Cup to Drink Coffee in Zero Gravity‘ – via ZME Science

‘Brazil’s Expocacer Cooperative Opens US Hub in Delaware’ – via Daily Coffee News

Blank Street Coffee Had Turbulent First Six Months in the UK, 2022 Accounts Show‘ – via World Coffee Portal

Never Mind Dancing Goats, Dairy Cows Are Eating Coffee Now‘ – via Sprudge

The Week in Coffee Unionizing

Starbucks is bringing its Barista Championship to North America, a competition that began in the UK and Ireland in 2013, which Starbucks calls “a celebration of our partners.” Over 15,000 baristas will participate in the competition, with the winner receiving a paid trip to Hacienda Alsacia, the company’s farm in Costa Rica. 

However, unionized baristas are not eligible to compete. Starbucks says this is because the competition is a workplace benefit and, as such, must be part of a collective bargaining agreement with unionized stores. Starbucks has made this same argument about other benefits, such as raises and expanded health care. However, Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) has previously waived its right to bargain over these benefits.

“It’s like they are constantly taking actions that are petty and harmful to, I guess, make a point,” one unionized barista told HuffPost. “To me, that’s not taking a step toward bargaining in good faith.”

SBWU has filed 47 new charges against the company alleging unfair labor practices, one of which relates to the barista championship. Others include a charge that Starbucks gave unionized workers smaller raises than non-unionized workers and withheld new benefits.

While admitting that missing out on the barista competition isn’t the most important thing, another worker called it a “gut punch” to learn that he couldn’t participate. “It’s just a fun part of the job that I enjoy,” Dillon Dix said. “They’re just trying to make my job less fun.”

Beyond the Headlines

‘How Shade Coffee Lends Conservation a Hand’ by Lesley Evans Ogden

‘What Our Kids Grow Up Around: How Renata Henderson and Bartholomew Jones Are Creating a Legacy Through Coffee’ by Lydia Stolper

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Fionn Pooler

Fionn Pooler is a coffee roaster and freelance writer currently based in the Scottish Highlands who has worked in the specialty coffee industry for over a decade. Since 2016 he has written the Pourover, a newsletter and blog that uses interviews and critical analysis to explore coffee’s place in the wider, changing world (and also yell at corporations).

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